MP Carols: In The Bleak Midwinter
In the bleak mid-winter Frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow, In the bleak mid-winter, Long ago.
It’s cold miserable, and for some reason there’s snow in Bethlehem… We’re looking in on yet another cheesy Christmas card image. So, why do we bother singing such an irrelevant carol?! I remember thinking exactly this, rehearsing this hymn in preparation for the annual school carol concert. The teacher had insisted that we only needed to practice the first verse, as “all others were the same tune and only wasted valuable practice time”.
I quickly grew to despise this melancholic, repetitive song which gave no hint of the real Christmas, merely a depressed English experience of a dreary winter season. How dull.
It wasn’t til the ‘big day’ that we finally sang the following verses, and I realised how my approach to this carol, and indeed Christmas, had been so flawed. Jesus came to a cold and ‘frosty’ nation, to people whose hearts were indeed as ‘hard as iron’. Jerusalem may not have been covered in the white stuff, but the people were defending their vulnerabilities with barricades of snow.
How do we approach Christmas? Is it the same way? Appreciating Jesus’ coming to earth, cute as a tiny baby, but not letting the nativity story of sacrifice and vulnerability melt our hardened hearts. They were looking for a warrior, not a saviour. Someone who could fix their political issues, rather than warm the coldness of their hearts. How often do we ask God to solve the outside problems that we face, rather than ask Him to transform our inside?
It’s a hard request, to admit we need changing, but when we struggle on with bitterness and coldness we are making ourselves slaves to legalism and attempts to self-sustain The final verse puts the metaphorical cherry on the metaphorical Christmas cake.
What can I give Him, Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a wise man, I would do my part; Yet what I can, I give Him – Give my heart.
As we stand around the manger this Christmas, don’t be worrying about the gifts you bring before God on His birthday. You’ve missed the point if that’s what concerns you. We aren’t asked to do the right thing to be in relationship with God, only to come before Him and ask his saving power to melt our selfish and stony hearts. It is then, by his amazing grace and love, that he can change our hearts to be more like Him.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36.26
If you have time, read the verses that come in between these, and ponder for a while on how a God that “heaven cannot hold, nor the earth sustain” has put the same uncontainable power inside you and me! And that He would be satisfied for smelly shepherds and a couple of strange men from the east to be the only ones to worship him on his earthly debut, not the crowds of “cherubim and seraphim” or angels falling before him, as He was used to in heaven!
I hope I’ve encouraged you to think a little differently about this carol. When you sing it, join me in making the last line your heart's cry this Christmas.
Emma is in her fourth year studying medicine in Sheffield, where she loves the steep hills and Yorkshire people. More often than not she can be found eating doughnuts, attempting DIY or embracing her obsession with all things Narnia.